Guidance from the UK Government is currently being updated on a regular basis. The Government has strengthened measures to tackle the spread of Coronavirus with the statement made by the Prime Minister on 23 March. The message is clear, STAY HOME – PROTECT THE NHS – SAVE LIVES.

We are strictly following the Government guidance, so members of our Cruising, Legal and Government Affairs Department are all now working from home, but you can still contact us on our published telephone numbers and email addresses as all operations continue at this time.

Recreational boating in the UK

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 have now been enacted to bring in powers to enable the Government and its agencies to manage the Coronavirus crisis in the UK. Provision 6 (1) of the Regulations deals with restrictions on movements and states ‘during the period of emergency no one may leave the place where they live without reasonable excuse’. Examples of what constitutes a reasonable excuse are listed in Provision 6 (2) of the Regulations. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own regulations, but the restrictions and requirements are essentially the same.

The Prime Minister’s statement recognised that “it is very important for people’s mental and physical well-being that they should be able to go out and exercise if they possibly can” and the Regulations permit people to leave home ‘to take exercise either alone or with members of their household’. The Government has made it clear that such exercise should be taken locally to home and within the guidelines for social distancing, although the Regulations themselves do not prescribe this.

The Government has advised that marinas should be closed in line with caravan parks, although marina operators are not specifically required to do so under the Regulations. We have increasingly seen harbour authorities and navigation authorities introduce measures and guidance in respect of recreational boating. Please monitor the website of the organisation that manages the facilities where your boat is kept.

Whatever your activity there is the additional concern that if something goes wrong, however unlikely that may seem, there is the potential that you will put further and avoidable pressure on the emergency services. These are exceptional times and the RYA calls on all recreational boaters not only to comply with the Regulations, but to act responsibly and adhere to the Government’s Regulations to help limit the spread of the virus.

UK Canals and Rivers

The Canal & River Trust has produced a set of frequently asked questions regarding coronavirus and UK inland boating.

Following the recent announcement from the Prime Minister about the UK’s heightened response to the Coronavirus emergency, the Environment Agency (EA) has taken the difficult decision to introduce limits to the use of its waterways to stop all non-essential travel. As such, the EA is asking the owners of all boats kept or used on its managed waterways not to make any journeys on their boats, other than to access essential services and facilities.

The joint owners of the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) are allowing a temporary extension to safety certificates for those craft requiring an examination in the period until 14 April 2020. Any future change will be reviewed in respect of the Government’s most up-to-date advice. In the meantime, Navigation Authorities and licensing bodies will maintain a record of extensions.

Recreational boating abroad

On 30 March the Government updated it global travel notice which advised UK nationals travelling abroad to return to the UK while there are still commercial flights available. The global travel notice now advises against all non-essential travel abroad due to unprecedented international border closures and travel restrictions being imposed without advance warning.

This update reflects the pace at which international travel is becoming more difficult with the closure of borders, airlines suspending flights, airports closing, exit bans and further restrictions being introduced daily. If applicable, British travellers should contact their tour operator or airline now.

The RYA advises recreational boaters to follow the advice from the UK Government. We are aware that this may be difficult, particularly when considering where to locate boats for the forthcoming hurricane season and because coastal states are increasingly closing their borders including to recreational craft, or as a minimum imposing a period of self-isolation or quarantine.

The right of a foreign ship to stop and anchor in coastal waters should it find itself in distress is explicitly referred to in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Where safety of life is involved, the provisions of the SAR Convention should be followed. The right to stop and anchor does not, however, amount to a right to enter the internal waters or ports of a coastal state. It is a matter for each coastal state to determine whether and, if so, on what terms a vessel may enter a port within its jurisdiction. In the current climate, it can be expected that many coastal states will take measures to tackle Coronavirus which include closing their sea borders.

Within the wider cruising community there are reports of boats being turned away from their chosen destination on arrival, therefore the advice is if you are safely moored and are allowed to stay, then it is advisable to do so.

In particular, setting off on passage or to remote places during the Coronavirus pandemic is inadvisable. Communities that would in normal circumstances welcome cruising yachtsmen may now see you as a threat, particularly more remote destinations which will not have the capacity to treat serious cases. Any exposure brought to their populations could be devastating and if you have an accident or are taken ill, healthcare may simply be non-existent. Be aware, particularly if you are undertaking a longer passage then the situation in your destination (no matter how well researched before departure) may have changed by the time you arrive.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Special Procedures being introduced in Ports of Entry Worldwide gives an overview of what recreational boaters are experiencing in around the world and an overview of the situation you are likely to find on arrival in other countries. If you are in difficulty abroad, contact the relevant British Embassy or Consulate for advice and assistance.

Arriving in the UK by recreational boat

Unlike many other countries, there is so far no blanket ban on arriving in the UK by recreational boat but if you try to do so you may none the less find your arrival problematic. Port facilities and marinas are closing and other authorities are taking whatever steps they have within their powers to stop or restrict recreational boating.

Some UK ports have introduced requirements for vessels (including recreational boats) arriving from outside the UK to complete and submit a health declaration on arrival. The requirements have been notified via local notices to mariners. Check local notices to mariners regularly for updated instructions and closures.

Once in the UK recreational boaters will be expected to adhere to the current UK Government ‘stay at home’ instructions.

What if a contract I have entered is unlikely to be performed?

Members of the RYA community are likely to have entered a range of contracts before the COVID-19 pandemic. From charter agreements, RYA courses to contracts for services the effect of the current situation is being felt across the boating community. The position is developing daily, with unprecedented government involvement. The RYA Legal Team has drafted guidance intended to provide a helpful starting point, but you may also need to seek independent legal advice.

To get in touch

Should you require any advice related to the guidance on this page please do not hesitate to get in touch. Your point of contact for this is the RYA Cruising Team on +44 (0) 23 8060 4233 or email cruising@rya.org.uk.

Page updated: 2 April 2020